Focus on niche publications: The Senior

In a new feature exclusive to Walkleys.com, we’ll be hearing from the people behind niche publications. Whether they focus on a particular interest area, geographic space or audience demographic, these journalists and editors know their readers like no-one else. To kick off the series, Cheryl Field (editor) and Natalie Williams (features editor) tell us about their growing readership and building online engagement for The Senior.

Next time you’re about to walk past a pharmacy, stop and take a look at that newspaper sitting in the stand at the door. It’s more than likely a copy of The Senior.

What? Never heard of it? That just means you are not old enough.

The Senior is a niche publication that targets readers aged over 50. While most readers are actually aged over 65 (72 per cent are aged 60 to 75), more and more readers in the younger senior bracket are joining our loyal audience.

The Senior’s news pages are filled with stories on topical issues of interest to seniors – and, no, it’s not all about death and dying! It’s about giving our readers the information they need to make informed decisions; and it’s about inspirational people for whom age is not an issue.

Recent subjects have included a split in the ranks among seniors’ representative organisations over the proposed out-of-pocket fee for GP visits;  consumer-directed care problems being encountered in rural areas; moves to increase the pension age; and elder abuse.

The Senior’s large lifestyle section, Our Times, covers accommodation, health and finance, places to go and things to see and do. It’s all about living life to the full. A recent edition featured a story on a resurgence in collector cards; a tribute to the Blue Ladies and Men hospital volunteers group; pet-friendly retirement villages; skydiving on your 80th birthday; and an artistic tribute to wrestler Mario Milano.

Each edition is state-specific, with stories relevant to that state, as well as some national cross-over stories.

The monthly Senior Traveller liftout has a huge following and is highly regarded for its selection of holidays and destinations specifically suited to mature travellers.

The Senior began almost 40 years ago as an independent newspaper based on the NSW Central Coast. It is still based on the coast, at Tuggerah, and is now a part of Fairfax Media.

The most respected national publication for seniors, The Senior has monthly editions in six states, with a total monthly circulation of 423,383 and an estimated readership of 1.5 million. And while experts trumpet the demise of newspapers as we know them, The Senior’s print circulation continues to increase annually – testament to the fact that we are catering for what could be the last real generation of newspaper readers.

Realising we must change with the times and embrace new technologies to attract the seniors of tomorrow, we also have a growing online presence with a website – www.thesenior.com.au – that includes a digital version of the printed paper, and extensive travel and retirement accommodation sections. We also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

More than 9000 people subscribe to our fortnightly e-newsletters – The Senior Traveller Extra and the Health-E Newsletter.

We are working on attracting more seniors to our website to allow even better interaction with our readers.

The publication is put together at head office in Tuggerah, NSW, by a small, enthusiastic team of “highly trained professionals”.  Stringer journalists in each state and a handful of long-term columnists complete the line-up.

There is no “average day” in The Senior’s office. Putting together six state newspapers each month is frenetic!

The editorial team is led by editor Cheryl Field and features editor Natalie Williams. We have a sub-editor, one full-time and one part-time journalist.

The nature of our operation means we do not have a photographer. Some of our photographs come from PR companies, some are taken by the journalists, and many of our images are supplied by the people we interview.

Our interviewees and readers love that. It gives them a sense of ownership of The Senior and they are thrilled to see their photograph in print.

The Senior has more interaction with its readers than probably any other newspaper. For all, we are a trusted source of information; for many, we are an understanding ear at the other end of the phone. We go above and beyond to answer their queries, by telephone or email, whether or not we have actually published a story on what they are inquiring about.

Sometimes we feel as though we are pseudo-social workers. It can be a burden, but at the same time it is a privilege to know we are held in such high esteem.

As our readers age they can encounter problems and issues most of the younger generations would not have even thought about…  mobility issues, social isolation, hearing problems, dementia and more. We are here to ensure these readers receive the latest information to help them make informed decisions so they can continue living healthy, happy lives.

Cheryl Field (seated) and Natalie Williams at work on The Senior

Cheryl Field (seated) and Natalie Williams at work on The Senior

One aspect of newspapers that has almost disappeared at The Senior is the ‘wall’ between editorial and advertising. We are proud to say there is a close working relationship between editorial staff and advertising sales representatives.

Features editor Natalie Williams has daily contact and discussions with advertising representatives, and treads a fine line balancing our responsibilities to readers with the demands and expectations of advertisers. Natalie’s success in this is evidenced by the positive feedback she receives from readers, our advertising reps and advertisers.

As previously mentioned, The Senior is unlike most newspapers – and that also applies to its distribution. You generally won’t find our newspapers at newsagents; you’ll find them where seniors meet and gather… pharmacies, libraries, shopping centres, registered clubs, sporting clubs, retirement villages, many government offices. The list is long and extensive. And, despite a tough market, we’re proud to say The Senior is still a free publication.

Looking forward, we would like to increase our web presence, and offer better access to our news and lifestyle information across multiple platforms.

We are also constantly working to have The Senior accepted http://www.ejsmith.com/ into the mainstream media.  People aged 65 and over are Australia’s fastest growing age group. The number of people 65 and over increased from 11.6 per cent of the population (or 2.1 million people) in 1993, to 14.4 per cent (or 3.3 million people) in 2013. By 2060 a quarter of Australia’s population will be aged over 65 (in fact, 58 per cent of the entire population will be in their 50s or older).

These numbers are good news when it comes to future readership; but they will also come with challenges. We must diversify to meet the changing needs of older people now and into the future. Getting the balance and timing right is essential – and, yes, we’re working on it!

Cheryl Field has more than 35 years’ experience in newspapers. She is a past editor of the Wyong Shire Advocate and has been with The Senior 20 years.

Natalie Williams celebrates 40 years in journalism next year (2015). She has worked in newspapers, radio and TV. For more than 20 years she was Newcastle Bureau Chief for News Limited. Natalie has been Features Editor at The Senior for eight years.

Do you work on a niche publication and want to share your story? We’d love to hear about it! Contact us.